London’s ‘Little Arabia’: Glitzy Knightsbridge has long been a playground for Gulf Arabs, but has the boom come to an end?

Knightsbridge
Updated 07 March 2018
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London’s ‘Little Arabia’: Glitzy Knightsbridge has long been a playground for Gulf Arabs, but has the boom come to an end?

LONDON: Nowadays Knightsbridge is famous for supercars, luxury shops and Gulf Arab visitors, but this was not always the case.
The district has evolved rapidly, swapping native residents for international newcomers, but what draws them to the area — and could it be losing its allure?
Othman Al-Omeir, a Saudi citizen, moved into an apartment near the famous department store Harrods in 1993, believes that it has already done so.
Before the streets of Knightsbridge were lined with Middle Eastern cafes and the gridlock of expensive cars, it had a very different feel, he recalls. Now a British national, Al-Omeir has seen Knightsbridge change from the stomping ground of upper-class English socialites, to becoming what he refers to as “a republic of the Gulf.”
“Knightsbridge in 1993 was more English … you didn’t hear another language, even a European language … and then suddenly it became very international. Seldom would you see English people there, except for visitors,” he added.
He moved to London in the 1970s, first living in Golders Green, then Marylebone High Street, Chiswick, Richmond and eventually Knightsbridge, as he rode the property wave. He was simultaneously scaling the media industry, and he was to found the Arab world’s first online newspaper, Elaph.com, in 2001.
When he first arrived London’s the Arab population was mostly to be found around Edgware Road and Oxford Street, because “most Saudis were coming to London to study or for medication in Harley Street (near Oxford Street) … but then Arabs moved to Mayfair … and then to Knightsbridge.”
Al-Omeir moved into Knightsbridge for reasons that are as relevant today as they were decades back: “The beauty of Knightsbridge is that it never changes from an architectural point of view. You can go to the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum), the Royal Albert Hall, many museums … and you have Hyde Park for walking. It’s an amazing place, and, of course, you are a neighbor of Her Majesty (the Queen of England) … who is not more than a thousand meters away.”
But change was looming for the refined London borough, and Al-Omeir first started noticing it in 2006. “Knightsbridge faced a kind of revolution … the Arabic cafes, shops and restaurants started opening up. You could see groups of Gulf Arabs walking around together.
“Knightsbridge then became a republic of the Gulf. You feel (as if you are) in the heart of Riyadh, Beirut or Dubai. It didn’t work for me for one reason: I enjoy being in London. If I want to go to the Middle East, I’ll go to the Middle East.”
The changes, the shops, the cafes, the people, the summer influx, the shisha smoking, the transformation into Little Arabia… it was all too much for Al-Omeir.
“When I came to London, I wanted to live in London, among Londoners,” he told Arab News. So, after 25 years in the area, he moved on. The media owner now lives in a stunning new-build block on the Strand, an area close to his cherished Fleet Street, once the center of the UK’s newspaper industry, back in “proper London.”
But Little Arabia is still popular with Gulf Arabs and is likely to remain so.
“What makes Knightsbridge so popular is the luxury ambiance the area brings from its high-end stores, brands and fine dining,” Adnan H. Omar, the CEO and editor-in-chief of Arabisk London Magazine, told Arab News.
“Also, I think it is fine to say that people, more often than not, like to surround themselves with their community, and in this case, Knightsbridge is that location,” Omar added.
But would he live in Knightsbridge?
“Personally, I would not reside in Knightsbridge, it feels more of a commercial and tourist area rather than a homely neighborhood,” Omar said.
Al-Omeir the best time to visit Knightsbridge is in winter, avoiding the summer’s supercar season, a sentiment most Londoners would be likely to agree with. However, as last summer’s supercar season was underwhelming, according to local café staff, it’s possible that Little Arabia may now be returning to quieter times.


Turkey may launch new offensive against US-backed Kurdish militia in Syria

Updated 22 September 2018
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Turkey may launch new offensive against US-backed Kurdish militia in Syria

  • The operation is expected to begin from Turkey’s southeastern border town of Suruc
  • Turkey maintains its regional alliance with Russia as leverage against US support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia

ANKARA: Turkey is gearing up for a military offensive on Tal Abyad in Syria, according to some news reports, with video footage showing the Turkish military deploying troops near its border town Akcakale. 

Experts interviewed by Arab News noted that the military deployment to the Syrian border with many tanks and howitzers was aimed at putting additional pressure on the US to accelerate the implementation of a roadmap endorsed by Turkey and the US in June for the northern Syrian city of Manbij.

A recent agreement between Ankara and Moscow that forestalled a full-scale Syrian regime offensive against the Syrian province of Idlib also triggered Turkey’s ambitious military activities along the border. 

Turkey maintains its regional alliance with Russia as leverage against US support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, seen as a domestic security threat to Turkey due to their links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state for more than three decades. 

And the Manbij roadmap between Turkey and the US consists of the withdrawal of the YPG from the city to stabilize the region.

Tal Abyad, an Arab-majority town located to the north of Raqqa city and near the Turkish border, was captured from Daesh in 2015 by the YPG in an offensive supported by US-led airstrikes. The YPG remains a reliable American partner in Syria. 

A potential operation in Tal Abyad, if it happens, would likely mark a new phase in Turkey’s military intervention in Syria by directly clashing with the YPG on the ground. 

Mete Sohtaoglu, an analyst on Syrian politics, expects Turkey’s operation in Tal Abyad to start by March 2019. 

“Turkey’s main objective is to wipe out all YPG presence in the east of the Euphrates. The details of the operation, if it occurs, will become clear following an upcoming meeting between Turkish and American presidents,” he told Arab News. 

“The operation is expected to begin from Turkey’s southeastern border town of Suruc, then will specifically include the zone between Tal Abyad and Kobani cantons,” he said. 

Although not officially confirmed, Trump and Erdogan are likely to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s 73rd session, which will begin on Sept. 25. 

According to Sohtaoglu, the prime condition for the US to address Ankara’s concerns and withdraw its support for the YPG would be a change of policy by Turkey about Iran. 

Ankara recently gave the green light for military cooperation with Washington in Syria. Since June 18, US and Turkish troops have been conducting “coordinated independent patrols” to the north of Manbij as part of the roadmap. 

In a press conference on Friday, Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin announced that Turkey would soon start joint training and patrols with the US in the Syrian Kurdish-held town of Manbij, but said Washington’s continuous arms support of the YPG was unacceptable.

The US State Department omitted the YPG and its political wing the Democratic Union Party (PYD) from its 2017 Country Reports on Terrorism, which was released on Wednesday.

However, some experts do not expect any decrease of US support to its local partner YPG, while mobilizing the forces alongside the border is a tactical move. 

“I don’t expect an imminent and direct military operation to Tal Abyad. I think the recent military reinforcement intends to put pressure on the US to quickly operationalize the joint roadmap on Manbij, another Kurdish-held province,” Oytun Orhan, a Syria expert at the Ankara-based think-tank ORSAM, told Arab News. 

Orhan thinks that Turkey’s tactical move would change the local balance in Tal Abyad. 

“It would create a sense that the Turkish army wants to enter the area and would incite some rebels. The removal of YPG from this province would undermine the terror group’s aim to create an integrated zone in this region because it will break the geographical continuity between the cantons,” he said. 

Further increasing its geographical importance, Tal Abyad is located on an intermediate point between the major cantons of Kobani and Qamishli. 

Orhan said that Turkey already had the support of Arab tribes that took refuge in Turkey from Tal Abyad, and Ankara’s ability to rally this support in an Arab-majority town would force the US to reconsider its alliance with the YPG. 

“In the past, the Arab tribes that took shelter in Turkey often expressed their willingness to take part in an Turkish operation to Tal Abyad if Ankara supports them,” he said. 

Last year in March, Turkey convened a meeting of about 50 Sunni Arab tribal leaders in the Turkish southeastern province of Sanliurfa that lies to the north of Tal Abyad, and their position against the YPG was put on the table.